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GRAMOPHONE 2021

BEST NEW CLASSICAL ALBUMS


Martin Cullingford's pick of the finest recordings from this month's reviews.
Here are the titles available from Naxos Direct.
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Image RECORDING OF THE MONTH - APRIL 2021
‘French Duets’
Steven Osborne, Paul Lewis pf

"Two of today’s most compelling soloists unite for this beautiful recital – from radiancy in Ravel to playfulness in Poulenc, via some sublime Debussy, this album is sheer joy from beginning to end." (Gramophone) 

A bewitching programme of music often associated with childhood, including favourites by Fauré, Ravel and Debussy; works which amply reward the care lavished on them by Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne in these exquisite accounts

kr 169
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Mahler Symphony No 4
Anna Lucia Richter sop Bamberg Symphony Orchestra / Jakub Hruša

"Moving and beautifully crafted Mahler, the symphony’s sweep superbly presented by an ever-impressive conductor and players deeply immersed in its idiom." (Gramophone) 

When the Bamberg Symphony and their principal conductor Jakub Hruša went on tour in Germany with Mahler's Fourth Symphony in January 2020, no one would have thought that this symphony in particular would become a kind of "symphony of fate" of the year, for only two months later, the performance of major symphonic works was impossible for a long time after the "corona lockdown" in Germany, which hit cultural institutions particularly hard. The Bamberg Symphony were involved at an early stage in investigating the effects of making music together on the spread of the virus and helped to develop concepts for safe concert performances. This enabled their renowned Mahler Competition to take place in early July 2020, with Mahler's Fourth Symphony at its center. Even though it is the smallest Mahler symphony, these were the first symphonic performances after months, which then led to one of the first symphonic album recordings in times of the pandemic - seated apart, but musically closer than ever.

kr 159
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‘Occurrence’
Iceland Symphony Orchestra / Daníel Bjarnason

"The Iceland Symphony Orchestra’s three-disc survey of new music linked to its homeland concludes, exploring landscape and soundscape with extraordinary imagination." (Gramophone) 

“Occurrence is the third, and at least for now the last, in a hugely illuminating series devoted to works by contemporary Icelandic composers, as performed by Iceland’s 70-year-old national orchestra. Speaking for myself – and surely for many others, as well – the series has been a milestone project, one that any conscientious collector of symphonic music simply must have on the shelf. Across three albums now, Sono Luminus has capitalized shrewdly on swelling global interest in the music of Daniel Bjarnason and Anna Thorvaldsdottir, using their works as a means by which to introduce seven more composers with original, substantial voices. Three of the composers represented on Occurrence return from previous installments in the series. In addition to Bjarnson – who also has served as an insightful, sympathetic conductor throughout – we hear new works from Þuri´ður Jonsdottir, whose Flow and Fusion opened the initial disc, Recurrence, and from Haukur Tomasson, whose Piano Concerto No. 2 was a highlight of the second release in the series, Concurrence. These repeat engagements prove serendipitous, showing off fresh facets of these newly familiar creators. One, Bjarnason’s own Violin Concerto, scarcely requires introduction, having proved its merits and attractions already on concert platforms around the globe since its 2017 world premiere at the Hollywood Bowl. Pekka Kuusisto, the violinist for whom the piece was written, demonstrates his consummate skill as a technician, a melodist, a collaborator and – not least – a whistler, and the orchestral accompaniment, no surprise, is vivid and alert.

kr 159
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Ligeti Études
Danny Driver pf

Danny Driver’s fascinating reflections in the last issue on Ligeti’s Études perfectly paved the way for hearing the recording, and it’s one that brilliantly grasps and then conveys all the music’s inventiveness and virtuosity." (Gramophone) 

Ligeti’s vertiginous studies are breathtaking: extraordinary explorations of the modern piano which test the instrument (and its player) to the limit.

kr 169
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‘(Re)Creations’
Zlata Chochieva pf

"Zlata Chochieva follows her recent splendid albums of Chopin and Rachmaninov with something as intriguing as it is compelling: transcriptions that reveal both the form and a formidable pianist at their very best." (Gramophone) 

Transcribing musical works for other instruments or instrumentations has a long tradition in music history. Sometimes, the composers themselves wrote different versions of their works and often it is the musicians who adapt works for their own instruments. Even great composers have enjoyed arranging the works of their predecessors and have thus transported them into their time and era of music history and lent their own interpretations to them. Among those are Sergei Rachmaninoff, Franz Liszt, and Ignaz Friedman - all three great pianists and composers. Renowned Russian pianist Zlata Chochieva presents their transcriptions of the works of great composers such as Bach, Mendelssohn and Mahler on her new album "(re)creations".

kr 159
Image #9 APRIL 2021
Eccles Semele
Sols; Academy of Ancient Music / Julian Perkins

"Remarkably, John Eccles’s final opera lay unperformed until 1964, and only now gets its second recording – but what entrancing and engaging advocacy it here receives." (Gramophone) 

Academy of Ancient Music, Cambridge Handel Opera Company, Cambridge Early Music and Julian Perkins are proud to present the first professional recording of John Eccles’s Semele (c.1707), a notable early setting of the great English libretto by William Congreve better known in a version by GF Handel from 1744. Academy of Ancient Music’s mission is to explore, reveal and preserve the great treasure house of baroque and classical music, and a spirit of newfound discovery runs through all our work. Eccles’s Semele is the next step on this journey, released here on 2 albums an extensive accompanying full-color booklet containing scholarly essays, Stephen Fry’s modern re-telling of the story, autograph manuscript images of Eccles’ score, the full libretto text and much more. A fascinating insight into how opera in England might have developed after Henry Purcell’s death had not Handel moved to London in 1712, Eccles’s Semele is the perfect addition to any baroque-music lover’s library.

kr 169 (kr 259)
Image DVD/BLU RAY: APRIL 2021
Donizetti Pietro il Grande, kzar delle Russie
Sols; Orchestra Gli Originali / Rinaldo Alessandrini

"This, the opera’s first DVD release, taken from the festival devoted to the composer, comes well recommended by Tim Ashley." (Gramophone) 

Pietro il Grande, kzar delle Russie – composed when Donizetti was 22 years old – was the first of the composer’s operas to receive more than one production. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the work’s première in 2019, the Fondazione Teatro Donizetti di Bergamo staged this rare melodramma burlesco in a new critical edition. The influence of Rossini and Mozart is clear, but the young Donizetti still managed to create a fresh and lively work that displayed early evidence of his mature style. This Donizetti Festival performance received widespread international acclaim, with a cast of excellent singers and a unique staging by Ondadurto Teatro (Marco Paciotti and Lorenzo Pasquali), influenced by Russian avant-garde art of the early 20th century.

kr 239
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kr 239
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Locatelli ‘Il labirinto armonico’
Finnish Baroque Orchestra / Ilya Gringolts vn

"From the opening track onwards, elegant playing launches a programme rich in charm from Ilya Gringolts and the Finnish Baroque Orchestra, all on sparkling form." (Gramophone) 

Published in 1733, Pietro Locatelli’s L'Arte del violino for solo violin, strings, and basso continuo took both violin technique and the solo concerto as a genre into a whole new realm. The twelve concertos included in the collection also played a part in forming the image of the violin virtuoso, reaching its full bloom with Paganini towards the end of the century. Locatelli probably composed the set between 1723 and 1729, years that he spent mainly on the road performing at princely courts across Italy and Germany. While the unusually high technical demands of the solo part are obvious to the listener from the start, the great surprise comes at the end of the first and third movements of each of the concertos. Here Locatelli inserts Capriccios for the soloist alone of a difficulty previously unheard of, with a left hand technique making use of extensions, octaves, unprepared tenths, double and triple stopping, arpeggios and double trills. The writing also favors playing in extremely high positions: in Capriccio No. 22 (from the third movement of Concerto no. 11) rising broken thirds go as high as 17th position. Ilya Gringolts, whose discography includes the better-known caprices by Paganini, has accepted Locatelli’s challenge, and here performs three of the L’Arte concertos. He does so with the support of the Finnish Baroque Orchestra, which he conducts from his gut-stringed violin by Ferdinando Gagliano, ca. 1770.

kr 169
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D Matthews A Vision of the Sea
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Jac van Steen

"David Matthews’s sound world draws you in with expressive orchestral writing, whether evoking the sun or sea, or in his beautifully crafted Eighth Symphony." (Gramophone) 

A frequent collaborator with both the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and Jac van Steen, David Matthews’ new recording explores both the natural world and the symphonic idea, the second of which has, in his words, “obsessed me since I started composing at the age of 16.” As well the Sinfonia and Symphony No. 8, the programme includes Toward Sunrise; inspired by the sound of the sun (a rising fourth of C-F), as recorded by scientists at Sheffield University, and A Vision of the Sea; drawn from the sights and sounds of English Channel near the composers’ home in Deal, Kent. With a singular body of work spanning almost 60 years, David Matthews has established an international reputation as one of the leading symphonists of our time. Born in London in 1943, he began composing at the age of sixteen. He read Classics at the University of Nottingham – where he has more recently been made an Honorary Doctor of Music – and afterwards studied composition privately with Anthony Milner. He was also helped by the advice and encouragement of Nicholas Maw and spent three years as an assistant to Benjamin Britten in the late 1960s. In the 1970s a friendship with the Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe (leading to collaboration and numerous trips to Sydney) helped Matthews find his own distinctive voice.

kr 159
Image #4 MARCH 2021
Holmboe String Quartets, Vol 1
Nightingale Quartet

"The Nightingale Quartet’s survey of Danish composer Vagn Holmboe’s string quartets couldn’t have a more auspicious start: performed with a gripping sense of drama and caught in richly vivid sound." (Gramophone) 

After award-winning Langgaard recordings, the Nightingale String Quartet turns to one of the great unsung quartet cycles of the last century, that of Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996). Volume 1 in this new cycle takes in the composer’s first published quartet, his momentum-fueled Quartet No. 3 and his taut Quartet No. 15 with its pathos-imbued funeral march. These are fresh new performances that support the idea that the deeper you dig into Holmboe’s music, the more you find. Nightingale String Quartet is based in Copenhagen and consists of Gunvor Sihm and Josefine Dalsgaard, violins, Marie Louise Broholt Jensen, viola, and Louisa Schwab, cello. The core of the quartet's identity is their passion for the amazing string quartet repertoire as well as their strong love for each other as musicians and best friends.

kr 159
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‘Piazzolla Reflections’
Ksenija Sidorova accordion

"What better way to mark the centenary of Piazzolla’s birth than this programme from accordionist Ksenija Sidorova steeped in the soul and spirit of the tango master’s music?" (Gramophone) 

Riga-born Ksenija Sidorova is today one of the most eminent global ambassadors of the classical accordion. She has proudly borne the colors of her instrument in appearances in the world’s leading halls and with the foremost orchestras. Here she pays homage to Piazzolla in her own way: ‘Piazzolla the revolutionary, the ground-breaker, a man thinking ahead of his time . . . Playing this repertoire gave me a sense of artistic freedom and ignited my belief in advocacy of my instrument. For this album, I wanted to celebrate Piazzolla the innovator by pairing some his masterworks with pieces written by other composers for classical accordion, the majority of which I have premiered in recent years. Being of Russian heritage, I couldn’t help noticing the similarity between the nostalgia of the tango and that of Russian composer Sergey Voitenko’s Revelation. French accordionist-composer Franck Angelis’s Fantasia is based on Piazzolla’s waltz-tango, and the programme is completed by the Nocturne of Italian accordionist-composer Pietro Roffi and a piece by Sergey Akhunov.’

kr 169
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‘And Love Said …’
Jodie Devos sop Nicolas Krüger pf

"Following her thrilling Offenbach album two years ago, Jodie Devos reveals herself just as compelling and communicative in this personal programme of English-language song." (Gramophone) 

‘This programme reflects a personal journey: I am Belgian, I studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and now I live in France. I wanted to present composers from these three countries, taking as my cornerstone the English song repertory and the English language. It was Britten’s On this Island that started me thinking in this direction. William Walton’s Daphne and Ivor Gurney’s tiny but intensely fresh Spring touch me enormously and form a part of my life experience. Nicolas Krüger and I then chose other songs that we liked, such as Let Beauty awake by Ralph Vaughan Williams . . . I also wanted to give my listeners a chance to hear French or Belgian composers who set English poems to music: Darius Milhaud, Germaine Tailleferre (one of those female composers who deserves to be better known) and Irene Poldowski . . . and to commission a work from the Belgian composer Patrick Leterme, who has often accompanied me. . . But I discovered Queen before I discovered opera. When I heard Freddy Mercury singing You take my breath away at the piano in Hyde Park, I was overwhelmed. I had to include that love song in my recital!’ – Jodie Devos

kr 169
Image DVD: MARCH 2021
Weinberger Frühlingsstürme
Sols; Komische Oper Berlin / Jordan de Souza

"This operetta’s origins lie in dark days (its first run was closed down by the Nazis), making this revival, wonderfully captured on film, all the more welcome." (Gramophone) 

Czech-born composer Jaromír Weinberger, best known for his opera Schwanda the Bagpiper, was forced to flee to America in order to escape Nazi terror. Frühlingsstürme, staged in 1933 but soon closed down by the Nazi government, was the last operetta of the Weimar Republic. It is filled with cultural complexity, combining serious operatic style with light comedy, and presents a thrilling story involving a doomed love affair set against war between Japan and Russia. This lavish production is staged by the award-winning Australian director Barrie Kosky.

kr 379
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kr 379
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‘English Music for Strings’
Sinfonia of London / John Wilson

"Once again John Wilson draws the most glorious sound from his hand-picked orchestra, lavishing care and devotion on repertoire that could have been written for him." (Gramophone) 

During the 1930s, Bliss, Britten, and Berkeley all contributed major works to the repertoire for string orchestra, following in the footsteps of Elgar and Vaughan Williams. They are joined on this album by Frank Bridge whose Lament was composed during the First World War. This is the fourth recording by John Wilson with his award-winning Sinfonia of London. Bliss composed Music for Strings after he had completed the film score for Korda’s Things to Come, driven by his desire to compose a piece of ‘pure music’, expressing his own ideas rather than those of others. Commissioned in May 1937 by Boyd Neel for the Salzburg Festival that summer, Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge was composed at great speed, and helped to establish the young composer’s international reputation. Dedicated to his teacher, Frank Bridge, the theme is taken from the second of Bridge’s Three Idylls for string quartet. Lennox Berkeley composed his Serenade for Strings at Snape Maltings, where he was living with Britten in 1938 / 39. By the time of its completion the nation was at war and the music seems to reflect the composer’s anxious mood as the world faced an uncertain future.

kr 169
Image #3 FEBRUARY 2021 Nos. 7 & 10
Beethoven Violin Sonatas Nos 7 & 10
James Ehnes vn Andrew Armstrong pf

"A brilliant sonata series closes on a high: James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong have proved themselves players in perfect dialogue throughout this memorable addition to catalogue." (Gramophone) 

This, the final release in the complete Beethoven Violin Sonatas from James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong will be eagerly awaited by their fans. The earlier albums ONYX4170 (Nos.9 ‘Kreutzer’ & 6) and ONYX4177 (Nos.1-3, Variations WoO40) received outstanding reviews. On this new album the dramatic 7th Sonata of 1802 is paired with the serene 10th. composed in 1812 for the great violinist Pierre Rode.


kr 159
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Mozart Gran Partita M Simpson Geysir
Mark Simpson cl et al

"Another wonderful ‘Gran Partita’, from a particularly impressive line-up, is preceded here by a beautifully crafted work from composer and clarinettist Mark Simpson for the same forces." (Gramophone) 

A stunning pairing of Mozart’s glorious ‘Gran Partita’ Serenade with a work written specifically to be performed alongside it, Geysir by the exceptional clarinetist-composer, Mark Simpson. Mark Simpson’s simmering, volcanic Geysir was inspired by the rich opening chord of Mozart’s ‘Gran Partita’, and by its bubbling clarinet writing, which develop into what Simpson describes as a “flurry of colour and harmonic shifts”. As a clarinetist himself, writing Geysir “was an instinctive thing – it never felt like trying to overcome any limitations… I’m very proud of it…” Mark Simpson, who performs on this release alongside a line-up of other extraordinary musicians including oboist Nicholas Daniel, was the first ever winner of both the BBC Young Musician of the Year and BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer of the Year competitions in 2006. By 2019 he was composer in residence at the Leicester International Music Festival, and is currently working on a Violin Concerto for Nicola Benedetti and commissions for the LSO, WDR Sinfonieorchester and RSNO.

kr 159
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‘Vida breve’
Stephen Hough pf

"Stephen Hough follows his Beethoven concerto album with a more intimate, personal meditation on life and death, a journey bookended with Bach-based reflections, and all performed with his usual intelligence and flair." (Gramophone) 

Piano Sonatas by Chopin (No 2) and Hough (No 4) are the twin peaks of a typically stimulating recital which—as always from Stephen Hough—spans centuries and styles with assurance. How often do Liszt’s ‘Funérailles’ and Gounod’s ‘Ave Maria’ share the same programme?Life is nothing if not unpredictable.

kr 169
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Beethoven. Rihm. Schubert Vanitas
Georg Nigl bar Olga Pashchenko pf

"A well-planned recital from Austrian baritone Georg Nigl of songs that draw on his voice’s reflective and humane sound, with pianist Olga Pashchenko at one with him in this journey." (Gramophone) 

Like the paintings of the Flemish Baroque painters, the ‘vanities’ presented here can be approached in two ways: on the one hand, as manifestations of doubts and anxieties at the fragility of human life; on the other, as delights to be savored without moderation, celebrating earthly life through the senses and the pleasure that human beings can derive from them. After two critically acclaimed recordings each for alpha, the baritone Georg Nigl and the pianist Olga Pashchenko explore the tortuous meanders of the human soul with vocal works by Schubert (an ‘existentialist’ composer if ever there was one), Beethoven (whose torments hardly need stressing) and the contemporary composer Wolfgang Rihm, whose highly expressionistic Jakob Lenz Nigl performed on stage in 2019. His piece Vermischter Traum, here given its world premiere, is dedicated to the Austrian singer.

kr 169
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Bruckner Latin Motets
Latvian Radio Choir / Sigvards Klava

"The acclaimed Latvian Radio Choir, their sound so immediately evocative and emotive, brings us beautiful Bruckner from the atmospheric acoustic of Riga Cathedral." (Gramophone) 

Ondine is proud to release its 17th album together with the award-winning Latvian Radio Choir and conductor Sigvards Klava dedicated to a cappella words by Anton Brucker. Anton Bruckner (1824–1896) is known as one of the greatest of 19th century symphonists. Yet, also choral music formed an integral part of the composer’s output. This album includes a selection of smaller choral works written between the years 1848 and 1892. Many of these works were long forgotten. Yet after a long stretch on the periphery of the choral world, Bruckner’s motets have now finally returned to a broader consciousness. The Latvian Radio Choir (LRC) ranks among the top professional chamber choirs in Europe and its refined taste for musical material, fineness of expression and vocal of unbelievably immense compass have charted it as a noted brand on the world map. The repertoire of LRC ranges from the Renaissance music to the most sophisticated scores by modern composers; and it could be described as a sound laboratory –the singers explore their skills by turning to the mysteries of traditional singing, as well as to the art of quartertone and overtone singing and other sound production techniques. The choir has established a new understanding of the possibilities of a human voice; one could also say that the choir is the creator of a new choral paradigm: every singer is a distinct individual with his or her own vocal signature and roles in performances.

kr 159
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‘Tyrannic Love’
Ensemble Les Surprises / Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas

"A vibrant step into 18th-century English music from Ensemble Les Surprises sees the French group shine in works both familiar and lesser known from Purcell and peers." (Gramophone) 

Until the late 1680s, Henry Purcell composed almost exclusively for the royal court. But when the monarchy decided to reduce its expenditure on music in 1690, he joined the United Company, a London theatre company, and devoted himself to composing for its productions. These took varied forms, with operas such as King Arthur (1691), The Fairy Queen (1692) and The Indian Queen (1695) but also spoken plays with music, such as The Virtuous Wife (1695). It is excerpts from these works that are presented in Tyrannic Love. Compositions by Purcell’s colleagues or followers John Blow, John Eccles, Jeremiah Clarke and Daniel Purcell complete the programme. This recording marks the beginning of the collaboration between Alpha and the ensemble Les Surprises, founded in 2010, which takes its name from Les Surprises de l’Amour by Rameau, the group’s emblematic composer. Under the artistic direction of Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas, who is also an organist and harpsichordist, the ensemble presents innovative interpretations and explores the rich orchestral sonorities made possible by the use of Baroque instruments.

kr 169
Image DVD: FEBRUARY 2021
Beethoven Fidelio (1806 version)
Sols; Vienna Symphony Orchestra / Manfred Honeck

"Manfred Honeck leads his fine singers and instrumentalists in a Fidelio that, says critic Peter Quantrill, is not to be missed." (Gramophone) 

None other than Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz has been engaged for the stage direction of the new production of Fidelio from the Theater an der Wien. There, at one of the oldest opera houses in Vienna, L.v. Beethoven was what one would call today a composer-in-residence. And he was this in two respects: here he lived for two years in an apartment in the wing of the building. And it was here that he premiered many of his most famous orchestral works, symphonies and his only opera: Fidelio. In his third opera production Waltz brilliantly stages the second version of the opera in the breathtaking set designed by the German-American architectural practice Barkow Leibinger. The abstract staircase landscape in the form of a double helix, symbolizing prison, extends space into the back theatre and is infinitely changeable in the cinematic lighting concept of Hollywood regular Henry Braham. Manfred Honeck at the rostrum of the dynamic Wiener Symphoniker leads a superb and versatile cast of “vocally oustanding“ (Der Standard) singers: Nicole Chevalier bewitches vocally and dramatically on her stage debut as Leonore, Eric Cutler gives Florestan a powerful voice. Christof Fischesser, Gábor Bretz, Mélissa Petit complete the strong ensemble. But the production, which was sold out months before, never saw its stage premiere, as the Theater an der Wien sadly had to shut down due to the Covid 19 pandemic a few days before. Thanks to an incredible effort by all participants, the opera house was converted into a film studio at short notice so that Christoph Waltz’s “convincing production” (Die Zeit) of Beethoven‘s flaming musical plea for freedom and humanity could be preserved for posterity. “An ingenious, enigmatic direction” (Münchner Merkur)

kr 299
Image BLU RAY: FEBRUARY 2021
kr 359
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